Saturday, February 14, 2015

Response to Atlantic Monthly Article "Suburbia and its Common Core Conspiracy Theories

The author proves the most salient point about the criticism of the direction of education, including NCLB, Common Core, PARCC, etc. She is not an educator, she is a political scientist, and she pretends that she know about what is best for schools because, what, she went to school? She taught college? There is a huge pot here thrown together as if there are two sides here, pro and con Common Core and PARCC. Most educators I know, and I am a school administrator and former teacher and counselor, are in favor of more consistency in education. The find it ridiculous that biology taught in Arkansas is so different than that taught in NJ, or worse yet, in the classroom next door. There is an acceptance that things like a model like the CC or having common assessments, on balance, will improve education. There is also a desire to move away from rote memorization to more nuanced understanding, such as that measured by the PARCC. But with that does not come an unquestioning trust in those that are creating and implementing this assessment system. The greatest error is the downplaying of the burden of the PARCC on schools. There is a huge difference from the past. The high school graduation requirement in NJ was 3 days of testing one time in HS. Now it is 9 days of testing every year of high school. That is 3 vs. 27 days of disrupted education. In addition, the complexity of administering and using this test is mind boggling. It has required EVERY school to spend millions of dollars on infrastructure to allow every student to test on computers. We have spent countless hours at our school preparing for this test, as the expense of overseeing instruction, responding to parents, etc. The test format itself is a nightmare. Even adults who take this have a huge problem navigating the multiple screens and tools needed to complete the test. The test is also really hard. Which is not a bad thing for the students who are abstract thinkers and who do not have high test anxiety. But for the concrete thinkers, unfortunately, most kids, this will be a miserable process. But the most salient question of this test is WHY? Why are we having these kids and schools do this? The teachers won't get the results until after the kids are in another classroom, so it certainly isn't to improve instruction. It is clearly so that bureaucrats can assess, and some believe punish, schools and teachers. We were told that this test would not be a graduation requirement, and, before the ink was dry, it was listed in NJ as a graduation test. Perhaps the most salient issue is whether all this dedication of time, student, teacher and administrator, and money is worth the return. I will bet you that the scores on this test correlate almost perfectly with prior, shorter, simpler tests and that they correlate much higher with parental income than differences in schools or teachers. The whole movement of accountability assumes that the lack of performance is more affected by teacher quality than things like parental oversight and economic well being. That is the most salient objection to this whole charade.

Obama and Education

Congratulations, President Obama.  On your watch, the billionaires have set the agenda for public education and you not only let them, you actively encouraged them.  You've bought into the narrative that public schools are failing then endorsed a process to make that so.  What were once places of thought and creativity are guided by unproven tests and assessment rubrics that make teachers feel as if they are only valued by their scores.  You have pitted parents against each other and against their school leaders.  Its like it all one large cock fight, with principals fighting with superintendents, teachers fighting with principals, parents fighting with school administrators, while the billionaires and test developers and state and federal departments of education all snickering.  "See, we told you it is all a mess."  Its rare these days to have a kid come in and say he wants to be a teacher.  It used to be that was something worthy of respect.  Now it seems somewhere between heroic and foolish.  Who would want to go into a job where the profession is constantly under attack?  National "leaders", from Scott Walker to Chris Christie, have gained their prominence from their attacks on teachers.  Sure, they always mouth the words that they are not attacking teachers, but the unions, but everyone knows this is not true.  They want to make everyone pay attention to the benefits that teachers have and ignore that this is one of the hardest and most meaningful jobs on the planet; that what appears to be a short work day is perhaps one which requires the most time of any job.  And Mr. Obama, you have set the stage for this.  Your silence in support of teachers is telling.  Your support for the corporatization of schools has allowed this to happen.  It is time for you to stand up and say "teachers matter", "great teaching cannot be measured on tests", that "relationships between students and teachers is as valuable at that between children and parents in moving children in the right direction." Anyone who has spent anytime in schools knows that great teaching cannot be measured any more than great art.  President, you have begun to stand up for immigrants, for the environment, for victims of sexual assault.  Hooray for you.  But it is time, Mr. President, to stand up for parents, for teachers and most importantly, for students in abandoning this false premise that testing and assessment is the path to better public schools.